Post 500: Welcome back to Blackbyrd

In the fall of 2014 I toured a personal finance magazine’s office in downtown DC. I had actually secured an internship there for a summer but turned it down for another, more-substantial offer closer to home. 

(P.S. I’ve now worked at the company I chose over the magazine for nearly seven years.) 

(P.P.S. I knew close to nothing about personal finance, but I suppose I’m a classically trained journalist who could have figured it out.)

During the tour I couldn’t help but think about what my life there could have been like. The bright office in a beautiful building, the shiny tile floors, the official-looking professionals in their smart, tailored suits. Did I make the right decision? Two summers in a row at the same company — really, Emily? Who would I have met?

But the environment and my daydream isn’t what stood out most to me about the visit. It was the woman who would have been my boss, a notable alumna from my alma mater. It wasn’t how she looked, what she wore, or what she did — it was one tiny thing she said that she probably didn’t think anything of, but it has stuck with me for nearly 10 years. 

Twenty-Year-Old Emily: “What do you do in your free time? Do you ever write for yourself?”

Notable Alumna: “Oh gosh, by the time I get home from work, staring at another computer is the last thing I want to do.”

I was shocked. Imagine me, the self-proclaimed poetic genius five years deep into a personal blog and three years into what essentially was a writing degree, discovering that someone who could be a role model didn’t make time to write for herself outside of work.

I couldn’t imagine it because, at that time, not 24 hours could pass without Emily jotting down a new blog post idea; a young woman’s naive belief that what she has to say really really matters. 

Today, I get it. Today my eyes are tired.

But my fingers have been itching for years with blog posts unwritten and prose unprofessed. I need a creative outlet for my brain beyond the little victories I get at work in-between project planning and PowerPoint deck creation.

I’ve said this before, but this time I really mean it: this is the year I’m bringing my creative writing back. I’ve titled this “The Blog Project,” and my goal is to revisit my roots and practice my writing. (Aka I DON’T GIVE A SHIT IF ANYONE READS IT… I think.) I’m reading more than I have since I was a freckled kid lazing away over long stretches of summertime and I’ve written more poetry in the last couple of months than I have in the past four years combined.

So here’s Blackbyrd, a blog started by a 14-year-old in the heat of angst and uncertainty who is now a woman in her late 20s. I’ll be covering topics as a professional millennial plus some just-for-fun musings and projects.

Welcome back.

Full of life; full of stories

An elderly woman sat in the farthest booth from the door and ate her meal alone.

“Oh! She’s eating alone! That makes me so sad,” I said in a whiny voice.

My friend glanced at the woman and then returned my stare from across our four-person table.

“Em, did you ever think she wants to be alone right now?” he asked.

No.

I hadn’t thought of that.

It’s natural for us as humans to crave human interaction. To talk to someone, laugh with someone, be touched by someone, be held by someone.

Or maybe that’s not everybody. Maybe that’s just me and the age I’ve reached.

“Remind me to show you a poem my English teacher showed me in high school,” he continued. “I think you’d like it.”

***

After my papa died, my grandmother would sometimes drive downtown for lunch before her doctor told her to stop driving.

In a pre-menstrual emotional moment, I replied, crying, “Was she eating alone?!?” when my ex boyfriend told me he’d seen my grandma down at Tim Hortons. She hadn’t been eating alone, but the thought of her sitting by herself deflated me and reduced me to tears.

That’s why it bothers me so much when I see older people eating by themselves. They always remind me of how my grandma had to do a lot of things by herself after Papa’s death.

***

Two elderly women ate at Friendly’s two days ago. They sat in separate booths, faced the same way and did their own things. The one, in her cute pink capris and matching sweater, ate an ice cream sundae in silence. I noticed the pearls resting in her wrinkled earlobes and the intense wrinkles on her hands. The other, in a blue-and-white striped pantsuit, ate a sandwich while doing a crossword puzzle from a book.

I watched them in amazement, realizing their situations, what I would call “loneliness,” didn’t faze them. I pictured husbands sitting across from them in the booths, making them laugh. I tried to picture what they must have looked like at my age. Full of life, full of stories, futures ahead of them.

And I remembered the poem my friend mentioned that he did end up showing me by none other than Billy Collins:

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The sad feelings that wash over me when I see people eating by themselves is pointless. I’m sure when I’ve reached that age, I’ll crave a moment’s silence to read a book, read the paper, do a crossword puzzle, eat my meal and just notice things.

For now I’m too busy trying to belong.

Never underestimate a 15-year-old

He passed copies of the poem around the room. We were 15.

“‘To Make Much of Time’ by Robert Herrick,” it said at the top of the paper:

“Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.”

We discussed the poem and dissected it. Its meaning is obvious: take advantage of the time you have; don’t waste it.

But I felt like I had read the poem before and had somehow come up with an entirely different meaning. Perplexed, I didn’t say a word during the discussion.

***

A stack of poetry books sits on my dresser. The rest are at home, collecting dust in my dad’s office.

I attack my books with brightly colored pens and highlighters, circling and marking my favorite lines. Emily Dickinson –– my namesake, actually –– is my favorite. I’ve fattened her Selected Poems book with multi-colored sticky notes.

My mom bought me a book of romance poems  (my weakness), and I did the same thing –– I read through each poem and marked my favorite lines and passages. Herrick’s poem was in there.

***

Later during that class period, I decided to do what my generation does best: Google it.

Up it popped, showing three words that change the poem’s meaning. “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” it said. I gaped.

I pointed it out to my classmates and then called the teacher over.

He denied it. At first. Then he recognized our –– namely my –– outrage.

Robert Herrick didn’t write the poem to appeal to everyone. He specifically aimed it toward one audience. And my English teacher had the audacity to underestimate us by chopping off its real meaning.

I’d like to think that teacher has been showing this poem to other sophomores for the past five years under the correct title, but that’d be an overestimation. I’m sure it’s been scrapped, never to be taught in that teacher’s classroom ever again after being outsmarted by a group of 15-year-olds.

 

Sonnet, revisited

Quite a few of my views also come when people search “c.b. trail” into a search engine.

It’s because of this post. And this poem (which I will type from memory):

This is for the afternoon we lay in the leaves,
after it had been winter for half a year.
And I kissed you and unbuttoned your jeans
and touched you and made you smile, my dear.
And of all the good things that love means,
one of them is to touch you there.
And to see you smile, among the leaves
and feel your wetness and your sweet short hair.
And kiss your breasts and put my tongue
into the delirium between your soft pale thighs.
Because the winter has been much too long
and soon will come again when this love dies.
I will hear sermons preached, and some of them be true,
but I will not regret that afternoon with you.

~c.b. trail

Do you feel a tad uncomfortable? Most people do. I really can’t blame you if you do.

But, I’ll tell you one thing. When, at age 15, I first read this poem, I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I thought it was beautiful then. I think it’s beautiful now. I have this poem taped in the back of my poetry book(s) to remind myself that it’s okay to let go and write about whatever the fuck I feel. It’s okay to write down random words that don’t make any sense. It’s okay to be a little more personal than normal and to write about things that might make people blanch.

And oh, blanch they did.

At the end of Composition and Critical Thinking, a required course my freshman year, the professor asked each of us to upload a favorite poem onto the class’s Moodle (online student-teacher forum-type thing) page.

I wasn’t going to post c.b. trail’s “Sonnet.”

Hell no.

I was going to play it safe and post something normal for a change. But, with the urging of a friend, I posted the poem.

In class the next day, each student had to pick the favorite poem of a peer, stand up and read it to the rest of the class. I chose to read “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley.

Nobody read mine. (Surprised? I wasn’t.)

“If anyone’s poem has not been read, feel free to stand up and read it yourself,” the professor said.

I wasn’t going to read mine. I was going to sit back and be normal for a change (for fear of not being accepted as is, I really censored myself during that first semester freshman year).

But, with the urging of another friend, I got up.

I walked to the front of the class, stood at the podium and

read

my

poem.

You could have heard a pin drop in that classroom after I finished. Mouths gaped. Everyone stared. (I felt instant judgment at this point.)

“Well, during break when your mom and dad ask what you’ve learned, you can say, ‘oh, we learned about oral sex,'”* the professor said, breaking the ice with laughter.

My peers treated me differently after that. Some respected me more. Some shot interesting looks my way. I know a lot of them talked about it afterward (hey, I’m flattered). Most of them just didn’t understand.

I think the poem is beautiful because of its brutal honesty. c.b. trail wasn’t afraid to write what he/she felt. I’ve learned a lesson from him/her. Hence why I have the poem memorized and taped in the back of my books. I need reminders that it’s okay to record even the most ridiculous or socially unacceptable thoughts and experiences.

If only they could see my poetry books. I can only imagine what they would think then.

*roughly paraphrased

A corporation-cluttered culture

I found a copy of Love The One You’re With by Emily Giffin in a used book shop my friend took me to yesterday. It’s been on my Shelfari page in the “I plan to read” section since my sophomore year of high school. Naturally, the $3.50 price tag said “BUY ME.” 

“That’ll be $2,” the shop owner told me at the counter.

Our corporation-cluttered world has forgotten this authenticity.

I can’t remember the last time something this nice and unexpected happened to me at the cash register in a store. The owner even chatted with us for awhile and talked about the novel he is currently working on. Cashiers at large corporations don’t have nearly as much personality or appreciation for customers.

I try to support small businesses as much as I can. I got my hair cut at a little barber shop in town on Friday instead of stopping at the new Supercuts in the plaza half a mile away. 

The owner of the book shop didn’t care about making a huge profit on my purchase. He opened the shop because he obviously has an intense love for books. 

That makes me want to go back there again and again.

Rearranged

I’m on a roller coaster.

Image
[The ex and me the day of our Hersheypark trip sophomore year.]
I rode my first one in Hersheypark almost four years ago with my then-boyfriend. We then rode the second-steepest roller coaster in the nation. Fahrenheit, with its 97-degree drop, transformed my breathing into a scream.

He and I went on to Darien Lake together that summer (2009) and rode all of the coasters in a matter of hours.

They’re thrilling. The chug-a-chug of the climb, the intensity of the sudden plummet. The world dissolves beneath the tracks and you feel like you could fly right off into the clouds.

I’d give anything to fly off into the clouds right now.

I remember a poem I wrote several years ago that goes like this:

“Everything’s the same, but I have changedI’m different now, rearranged.”

I feel rearranged. I’m still me, just different.

On my drive back to school over a week ago, Taylor Swift’s “Begin Again” popped up as the first song. It’s odd how well it fits.

I’m beginning again this semester, in more ways than one. I’m still me, just rearranged. Revitalized. Reawakened. Reusing bits of me from the past and repurposing them. Replenishing.

Releasing.

I love roller coasters, but this one needs to get back to its station soon so I can get off.

Everything is connected and beautiful

It was beautiful. The snow glittered in the light the streetlamp gave off and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. He held my hand as we trudged across his yard, he in his boots and me in my Converse high tops. After awhile, I couldn’t handle it anymore, and he noticed. He scooped me up and carried me to our destination: the swings.

I immediately felt disappointment upon arriving. I saw that I couldn’t swing because the snow was so high that the necessary pumping would be impossible. He, wanting to fix the problem, set about trying to fling the swing over the bar to make the chains go up a little higher. When he couldn’t do it, I settled on the lowly swing (my pew, to those who read my poetry…oh wait, you don’t), and straightened my legs as he pushed me toward the tree. He stumbled and fell when he was pushing me, and I swung back and ended up on top of him. We got soaked, but couldn’t help but laugh. I kissed him, kept laughing, and then Becky and Thad came over to assist us after witnessing the whole thing.

Thad had a different way of getting the swing to go over the bar, so when he failed his first try, Robby tried the new method, and succeeded. I was finally free to swing without the snow on the ground interfering.

It was just like it had been over the summer, only so different. I can’t believe I sat on the same exact swing over the summer without knowing whose backyard I was practically in; without knowing that I would soon fall hard for the boy who lives in that yellow house. Because I am falling. Hard. And I know that once I’ve fallen all the way, he’ll be there to catch me so I don’t smash into a million pieces upon welcoming the ground with my body. He’ll be there to keep me safe as he has been doing for the past month and a half of my life. Since that night he stopped my tears and made me laugh. Since that night, I realized that there was something special about him.

After I got too high up for him to push me anymore, I looked at the tree whose leaves I had kicked over the summer. Things had definitely changed, but it was a beautiful change. The cold air pierced my exposed hands and bit into them, giving them more sore and dry cracks, but I didn’t care. It felt so good to swing after months of not having the chance to.

I slowed down, and he greeted me with a kiss. That’s the best greeting I could have asked for. It showed that I had left one dreamland and entered another one.

We trudged through the snow again, holding hands and looking up at the stars. It’s a beautiful thing. But then again, everything has been beautiful lately. To me, anyway.

(I want) total honesty and fearlessness

My Trendy Wendy notebook that I did my math homework this year and last year is no more. The spirals got all messed up and made it nearly impossible to turn the page of the notebook without ripping the page out. I retired Trendy Wendy and her brother Todd and dug through our school supplies basket for a new Algebra II/Trigonometry notebook to do my homework in. I unearthed a green College Ruled spiral notebook and packed it in my bag to take to school the next morning.

Yes, I did homework in it, but I noticed that the closely spaced lines made writing between them more inviting for me. Smaller print means more words can fit on the page – it’s a no-brainer. So, for the past couple weeks or so, I haven’t been paying attention in Trig (and I’m sure that my average has suffered a little if not immensely). Instead, I’ve been picking up my pen and getting lost in words I have written. Poetry’s always been my forte, but until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t been writing any new material. Now, thanks to this green notebook, I haven’t been using my laptop in school as much. Instead, I’ve been distracted by the beauty a clean, white page can provide. Just knowing I can fill that blankness with words makes me want to write all over on every page. So, that’s what I’ve been doing.

The green notebook isn’t for Trig anymore. No, I unearthed a new notebook for that subject (this time it’s red!) and have been using that instead. I’m letting this plain old green notebook help me stretch my writing abilities. I’m writing everything I can (it’s all poetry, mind you) even if it ends up sucking. At least I’m getting everything out of my head.

Lately I have been trying to write beyond my comfort zone. I’ve always kind of written G-rated poetry subconsciously. Now, my most recent works hold a new, deep and hidden meaning that it will take a reader several read-throughs to figure out what it’s truly about. Some of my recent poetry could be rated R or PG-13 at least. I used to be cautious about what I wrote. Now I find myself wanting to write about everything that I hold in my mind, no matter how vulgar or inappropriate my thoughts are (and let’s face it, every mind thinks vulgar and inappropriate thoughts sometimes). One of my most favorite poems is by this poet called C.B. Trail. He obviously didn’t care what the reader thought when he wrote “Sonnet”:

This is for the afternoon we lay in the leaves
After it had been winter for half a year,
And I kissed you and unbuttoned your jeans
And touched you and made you smile, my dear.
And of all the good things that love means,
One of them is to touch you there
And make you smile, among the leaves,
And feel your wetness and your sweet short hair,
And kiss your breasts and put my tongue
Into the delirium between your soft pale thighs,
Because the winter has been much too long
And soon will come again, when this love dies.
I will hear sermons preached, and some of them be true,
But I will not regret that afternoon with you.

I love his honesty and just the truth behind this sonnet. I have had some of my friends read this poem, and their first reaction is “ew! That’s disgusting!” but me? I think it’s beautiful. I think the way it was written is beautiful. I don’t necessarily think that the act displayed in the poem is beautiful (though, what in love isn’t beautiful?), but the way it was written is just phenomenal. Total honesty. Total fearlessness. I want to write like that. I don’t want to be reserved with my writing just because I’m afraid of being obscene or inappropriate. Marilyn Manson’s song “mOBSCENE” has a line that goes “Be! Obscene! Be be obscene!” I’m going to be totally honest with everything I write to get my point across, and if it means being obscene in the process, so be it. I’m willing to take the risk. This green notebook is helping me stretch that ability and is nursing it to reach its full potential. I write how I feel instead of how I pretend I feel. I make up stories in my head and then write them down in poetic form. I create magic with my poetry.

So, I’m trying to be open-minded with everything I write. Even if I think it’s horrible, I keep it. Even if I think a subject is a little iffy to write about, I do it anyway. I’m broadening my horizons. I’m making way for the new – so, out with my old ways and techniques!

Here are samples of my random thoughts in poems from school days (I’m keeping this G-rated here):

You Don’t Know Me

I appear miserable all the time
angry, sad, never happy
to you, this appears to be quite the crime.
Oh, how you don’t know me.
I’m filled with laughter and smiles
and I know, laughter you can’t see
but even though I run miles and miles
I don’t think you know me.
You think you know all my quirks
and what I like to be
the truth is, I’m not the queen of jerks
which shows that you don’t know me.
For as long as there is air to breathe
nobody – nobody – will ever know me.

I would tell you how the sun rose
but I’ve never seen its birth.
I know that the light slowly grows
and gradually heats the Earth.

All I know is when I wake
her silky rays reach my eyes
I know there is no mistake –
I’m in the right place when I rise.

I would tell you how the sun rose
but you’re asking the wrong girl.
This secret, nobody but her knows.
We’re both little girls in a big world.

Alone,
hated,
discombobulated.
She’s alone,
hated
and discombobulated.
I…
I’m alone,
hated
and discombobulated.

Surrounded by millions, thousands, billions
she smiles for the camera constantly.
She’s mocked and her popularity’s docked
all around her, bodies are flocked.
She looks in the mirror, but cannot see.
The flashes blind her temporarily.

She faults in her footing, cameras still shooting
capturing a moment that lives on forever.
She’s harassed and so embarrassed…
never did she ask for this.
She looks for her shoe, but cannot see
the flashes blind her temporarily.

She never has that moment, the missing component
to calm herself down completely.
Not missing a beat, she’s again up and on her feet.
She struggles, but won’t admit defeat.
She walks on, but cannot see…
the flashes blind her permanently.

Puzzle Pieces

We are puzzle pieces, walking around everyday of life,
Walking puzzle pieces fighting the battle everyday releases,
Until our living ceases to exist.
You’re a walking puzzle piece – where do you fit?
To whom to you belong?

Your match – your perfect fit – could be anywhere.
Go have a look-see.
Search for him if you can – that perfect fit, that perfect man,
Someone out there who will hold your hand – go search for him.
You’re a walking puzzle piece searching for your match – where do you fit?
To whom do you belong?

At night you sleep alone, but you dream of him.
In the morning, you can’t remember.
Off you are again to find him – your new best friend.
Cursing every man – all the men, trying to find him.
You’re a walking puzzle piece without a match – where do you fit?
To whom do you belong?

You’re one in a million-piece set – free from the box.
You’ve tried to fit with those who obviously don’t match.
You’re done trying to find someone who will only free your mind,
You feel you’re running out of time – he has to be out there somewhere.
You’re a walking puzzle piece unable to find your match.
Where do you fit?

And so, the piece missing its match wanders along.
Street after street singing song after song.
You hear the one you’re missing singing the same tune.
It stops, and you find him kissing a girl who doesn’t belong.
A girl who is not his match.

Run away with tears welling up that you’re trying to hide,
You make it home safely.
Wiping your eyes, you close the door, slump down, and cry.
You can’t fathom all the lies.
You are a puzzle piece who is missing a match. Where do you fit?
To whom to you belong?
Only to he who sang the same song.

~EMS
11:39 PM
1/19/09

The organ sings that well-known tune

as soon as she enters the room.

Clasping her daddy’s arm so tight

she looks at everyone but the groom.

The grass tickles her bare feet

as she walks down the aisle to meet

her bright future and her destiny,

her path paved with dirt, grass, and defeat.

The onlookers smile their smiles –

making her long to turn and run for miles

she plasters one on her face

as she walks down a million aisles.

A vision in white and eyes of green

like nothing they’ve ever seen

is let go by her loving father

still innocent and completely clean.

There he stands 3 feet away

together, they repeat what there is to say,

the kiss is brief, but meets applause,

forever in each others’ lives they plan to stay.

Tears are dabbed at by family

friends congratulate enthusiastically

it’s too late to take it back,

bound are they, in holy matrimony.

~EMS

12:38 AM

3/8/09